The president of Hungary was just banned from Slovakia and I understand the extraordinary decision.
Ms Jana Kirschner, "Pokoj v duši" (Peace in the Soul).
Fourty-one years ago, the armies of five Warsaw Pact countries - Soviet, Hungarian, East German, Polish, and Bulgarian troops - invaded Czechoslovakia in order to suppress the Prague Spring, a short period of relative democracy and freedom led by Slovak reform communist politician Alexander Dubček [Doob-Czech]. Romania rejected to participate and so did Albania that left the pact because of the invasion.
In this act of "brotherly assistance", our comrades sent us 500,000 troops or so. We may guess that about 400,000 were Soviet troops, less than 0.2% of the Soviet population. Hungary sent approximately 30,000 troops, or 0.3% of the Hungarian population.
I think that the opinion that only Russia was responsible for the invasion is completely dishonest. Relatively speaking, the other four countries were equally responsible. The Soviet Army was bigger, but the guilt is also divided among many more citizens. In the case of Hungary, the invasion had a special dimension because Hungary used to control Slovakia in the past.
In the late 1980s, Hungary became the first country in the list of 5+1 countries that gradually abandoned the totalitarian communist system. Not too surprisingly, it also became the first country to apologize for the invasion. László Sólyom, the current president of Hungary, has apologized, too. At least one year ago, he did.
But Slovakia is seeing something very different today.
It just happened that August 21st was chosen for a private visit of the Hungarian president to Slovakia. He was going to celebrate a new statue of St Stephen I, the founding king of the Kingdom of Hungary that used to include the bulk of Slovakia, Romania, and Serbia, among other regions. Stephen I of Hungary died on August 15, 1038, and was canonized on August 20th, 1083: August 20th is the St Stephen's Day, their national holiday.
The current population of Slovakia is close to 5.4 million. About 10% of the population is Hungarian. The center of their ethnic life is the city of Komárno which is divided by the border along the Danube river, established in 1920 (between Czechoslovakia and Hungary). About 40,000 people live on the Slovak side (Komárno) while approximately 20,000 people live on the Hungarian side (Komárom). About 60% of the Slovak town is Hungarian which makes it the largest Slovak town that is predominantly ethnic Hungarian. But Komárno is also the center of a regular Slovak district.
The municipal officials decided to open a new statue of Stephen I of Hungary: previous proposals to have the statue of Cyril and Methodius on the same spot have failed. The mayor of Komárno in Slovakia invited the president of Hungary but he did not invite many top politicians of Slovakia such as the president. On the other hand, Sólyom didn't want to meet Slovak politicians during the visit, apparently expressing the opinion that Hungarian king Stephen I, and not Mr Ivan Gašparovič, is the relevant kind of a leader in Komárno, Slovakia. ;-)
Two months ago or so, Slovakia approved a new language bill whose goal is to protect the Slovak language at public places - and prevent, for example, a possible new wave of Hungarization of the territory in the future. All public texts (i.e. at monuments, and teachers' documentation about students) must have Slovak equivalents.
One may pay up to EUR 5,000 for the exclusive use of Hungarian or other languages in "public" circumstances, a class of situations that is not quite well-defined. Hungarian nation is unfortunately among the European nations that like to penetrate and take over surrounding territories - a possible development that may be a legitimate concern for the Slovaks, Romanians, Serbs, and others. You can guess that a new wave of the cold war in between the two nations began after the bill was approved.
I think it was unfortunate that some top Slovak politicians - especially the president - were not invited to the St Stephen event in Komárno and it is very painful that the president of Hungary is showing his nostalgia associated with the "Great Hungary" by visiting (or attempts to visit) the territories that used to belong to their kingdom. If he wants to celebrate the Hungarian statehood, he shouldn't be doing it on foreign territories that Budapest used to control.
Great Hungary ended in 1918...
In my opinion, the kingdom wasn't a terribly advanced one, the leaders weren't terribly cultural (they were not so hugely different from the Tatars), and they don't have too much to be proud about. For example, when it comes to the industry, culture, and other things, it was a great improvement for Slovakia to join the Czechs in Czechoslovakia. And of course, I understand that many of them still wanted an even more independent arrangement which finally became a reality since 1993.
At any rate, the Hungarians should finally get used to the fact that their and Austrian obsolete feudal empire collapsed when it lost the World War I and their renewed Nazi-sponsored influence on the surrounding nations evaporated when they lost the World War II, too. ;-)
Stephen I is no big authority in Slovakia - even though he technically used to be the king of Slovaks, too. And what is much more visible for people in Slovakia (and Czechia) is that a guest who is "unwelcome", according to all top Slovak politicians, chooses the anniversary of the Soviet, Hungarian et al. occupation of Czechoslovakia to make a visit that is only sponsored by a "fifth column" in the new "cold war" between Slovakia and Hungary. Regardless of Stephen I, August 21st is a day when all Hungarians should feel ashamed for their history - at least in Czechia and Slovakia, they should - and when they should display a special kind of sensitivity to their neighbors. If they wanted to avoid this rule, they should have stopped their communists from occupying a neighboring country 41 years ago.
In fact, Sólyom also chose the very same bridge in Komárno for his trip as the Hungarian troops in 1968 who had to cross the border somewhere.
The relationships between the two nations are somewhat explosive and the Hungarian president clearly wanted to realize an act of provocation. His memories about the Great Hungary don't seem to be quite fictitious: he has even argued that Slovakia should add Hungarian as an official language. I am not surprised that this is viewed unacceptable by all the coalition and opposition non-Hungarian political parties in Slovakia. That would return Slovakia centuries into the past.
Well, I have many other objections against the current president of Hungary, including his opinion that "egalitarianism" should be more powerful than the Hungarian constitution. His uncritical opinions about the organized gays are bad, too. At any rate, I think that in this explosive situation, the Slovak politicians made a sensible decision to deny him access to the Slovak territory. We will see quickly whether he will ignore the ban. In that case, the Slovak authorities wouldn't act but they would emphasize that Sólyom would have violated the Slovak and international law.
Update: Sólyom won't cross the border, as he announced on his special press conference in Komárom. The Hungarian guys are going to whine about their leader's inability to celebrate their statehood on the territory of Great Hungary in front of the European Union bureaucrats. That's remotely similar to the Sudetenland German Nazis' complaining to their big comrade Hitler in 1938.